Drones, also referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), are non-crewed and pilotless aircraft that can fly either using onboard computers or remote control. They are a primary component of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and commonly used by the military. Their idea first became known on 22nd August 1849, when Venice was attacked by Austria with unmanned balloons full of explosives. During and shortly after World War I, the first drone was invented with the intention of taking down Zeppelins but was never flown. Several successors were developed and with each try, there was an improvement in the technology.
In 1959, the US Air Force became concerned about losing their pilots to hostile territory and thus started planning for pilotless flights. Modern-era drones were first used from 2nd to 4th August, during the US-Vietnam clash. Drones are used in situations where manned flight is considered too difficult or risky. Drones used by the US military range from small-scale intelligence aircraft to large surveillance and reconnaissance jets, where some are light enough to be launched by hand, and some are medium-sized drones and huge spy planes.
In recent years, the number of potential applications for drones (UAVs) has increased significantly since components have become lighter, smaller, cheaper and overall more efficient. Combine this with improvement in machine vision and you get drones that are able to address various multi-billion dollar industries.
Let’s look at 7 industries where drones can be used to help solve real life problems:
Aerial photography is not a new concept in the real estate industry. Property owners and real estate agents have been using aerial photography and videography to show their properties in appealing ways for decades. And while helicopters have been used in the past to bring stunning aerial shots of commercial properties and real estate, drones are able to provide footage from heights and angles that are not possible or easy using a helicopter.
In the construction industry, builders use drones as a cheaper alternative to manned aircraft and human surveyors. They are also used to collect data much faster and more accurately, allowing construction workers to track a site’s progress with a level of precision that was absent in the industry before.
When it comes to sports, drones are a popular option for filming sporting events that take place globally, and even in practice sessions to observe players. As a drone can film live action aerially, the recordings can be used for evaluating players’ performances and the changes that may be needed in their technique or coordination.
One of the biggest commercial markets for drones is agriculture, where they are used to monitor crops for disease, analyzing yields and identifying areas where fertilizers are needed.
Secom, a Japanese security company has developed a drone that launches automatically when an impostor is identified and follows them around. The UAV is made for tracking large areas, like supermarkets and shopping malls with big parking lots. The drone links with a burglar detection system that sends laser light beams through the boundaries of a secure space. When the detector senses motion, the drone takes off automatically from a charging station nearby to investigate and sends real-time footage of the imposter to the security center for further analysis.
UAVs are used to conserve wildlife through several ways, which include identifying and intercepting poaching gangs in Africa, tracking illicit fishing in Belize, collecting data regarding caribou, and checking populations of gray whales on the US coast.
The traditional method for inspecting a wind turbine is both expensive and risky. With drones, however, the process becomes faster, cost-effective and safer. Recent improvements in artificial intelligence and machine vision technologies have allowed automatic classification and detection of defects, which is making life easier.
SNCF Group, a French railway company, has been using drones as a means of railway security and maintenance that focuses on the inspection of rock faces to evaluate the risk of rockfalls on railways. It also helps draft vegetation maintenance plans and inspects station structures and roofing. Today, drones can be utilized for numerous purposes and that too for a relatively low price (as compared to other traditional methods). They are also being developed for enthusiasts and hobbyists, and are no longer associated with just ‘war’.
Large corporations like Amazon and Google have also invested in the drone industry. In 2014, Google acquired Titan Aerospace, a start-up company that manufactures drones, reportedly for more than $60 million. In addition, Mark Zuckerberg released a statement stating how much potential drone technology has when it comes to broadening internet access globally. This shows how far drones have come in helping solve real world problems.